Today's Papers

Scrapped Steel

Everybody leads with President Bush’s decision yesterday to immediately lift tariffs on foreign steel, a major policy reversal that looks to avert an international trade war but that could cost votes in industrial states key to Bush’s re-election.

Bush, who approved the tariffs 21 months ago, announced in a written statement that he would rescind them immediately—15 months before they were due to expire—because they had already done their job to boost a slumping U.S. steel industry. Yet, judging by the papers, nobody buys that spin.

The decision, though long expected, marked a major about-face for an administration not necessarily known for such reversals, the Washington Post says. The tariffs had been conceived not only as a way to boost the steel industry but also to give the GOP a much-needed boost in the Rust Belt. Yet, as everybody notes, the tariffs didn’t end up making anyone happy, not even the steel workers, who felt the White House had stepped in too late.

As many jobs were lost in industries that buy steel as were saved in mill towns such as Cleveland, says the Los Angeles Times, which has the best big picture analysis this morning of the decision and what it all means. The administration alienated other nations in the broader push for free trade. And, ironically, steel workers ended up endorsing a Democrat for president anyway. “It turned out to be messy if not self-defeating politics,” a trade analyst tells the LAT.

As expected, the president’s decision elicited anger from industrial-state lawmakers and from the head of the United Steelworkers of America, who said Bush had committed a “sorry betrayal” of steelworkers and would regret the move come Election Day.

The New York Times, meanwhile, takes a moment to appreciate the Karl Rove-like moves of the World Trade Organization and the European Union, which determined that the best way to beat back the tariffs would be to go after American exports from states deemed more crucial to Bush’s re-election efforts, such as Florida citrus and Michigan’s automobiles. “For the first time in his nearly three years in office, the president, who has often reveled in the exercise of American power, finally met an international organization that had figured out how to hit back at the administration where it would hurt,” the Times notes.

Rumors of a return mission to the Moon earn front-page mentions today in the WP and USA Today. As reported yesterday, administration officials tell the papers they are considering the moon mission among a list of “unifying national goals” heading into re-election year. Other goals could include promoting longevity or fighting childhood hunger or illness. Not surprisingly, the campaign is being devised by Rove, the WP says, and White House aides are said to be relishing the idea of a “Kennedy moment” for Bush. The only catch: Bush aides are wary of repeating a mistake that Daddy made back in 1992, when the former President Bush (also looking for that “Kennedy moment,” it seems) announced a mission to Mars.

The WP offleads, and the NYT mentions on Page One, the murder of a federal prosecutor in Maryland. Jonathan Luna, an assistant U.S. attorney based in Baltimore, was found dead with multiple stab wounds in a creek in rural Pennsylvania—about 100 miles from his office—just hours after he had been scheduled to appear in court to prosecute a violent drug ring. While authorities say they have no firm leads, they are questioning the defendants in that case.

The LAT catches early-morning word of an explosion onboard a commuter train in Chechnya that killed at least 25 people and wounded dozens more. Authorities described the bombing as an act of terrorism and said it may have been carried out by a female suicide bomber.

The WP stuffs word of a report from a former Israeli military official that claims Israel was a “full partner” in U.S. and British intelligence failures that exaggerated Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs before the war in Iraq. Israeli intelligence services and political leaders provided “an exaggerated assessment of Iraqi capabilities,” raising “the possibility that the intelligence picture was manipulated,” the report says. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has declined to comment on the report, which cited no specific details of what intelligence was exchanged.

The NYT unearths a memo that seems to indicate the Pentagon is still planning to move forward with efforts to leak bogus news to foreign journalists to influence public sentiment abroad. After nixing plans to form an “Office of Strategic Influence,” the Pentagon quietly hired a major defense consultant to study how the Defense Department could mount an “effective strategic influence” campaign abroad. Administration officials, who blamed a low-level staffer for a “poor choice of words,” say the projects may sound similar but aren’t the same.

Meanwhile, the White House changed its story—again—on what exactly happened during Bush’s flight to Baghdad last week. Initially, the White House talked up a gripping exchange between Air Force One and a British Airways pilot during Bush’s trip to Iraq. Later, British Airways denied it happened, and the White House amended its story, and said that the British Airways pilot had radioed an air tower in the U.K. to see if he had just spotted Air Force One. British Airways denied that too, as did British air traffic authorities. Now, the WP reports the story has changed, again. This time, the WH says Air Force One did, in fact, have contact with a “non-UK” operator.

The NYT fronts a profile of Democratic presidential long-shot Al Sharpton. He’s never won any race for public office, yet according to friends Sharpton never acknowledges the uphill battle he has to claim the nomination, much less the White House. “He has the kind of confidence Christ had on the cross,” a friend says.

Finally, the LAT looks at the nominees and the winner of Britain’s most dreaded literary prize: The Bad Sex in Fiction award. American writers John Updike and Paul Theroux were among the runners-up for the award, which is given annually to the crudest, most contrived or most pretentious description of the sexual act in a novel published in the previous year. This year’s winner was a writer from India known for incorporating automobile imagery into his erotica, including this amorous line: “She picks up a Bugatti’s momentum. You want her more at a Volkswagen’s steady trot.”